With the 2014/15 Aviva Premiership season just a matter of days away here are our 12 things to look our for during the course of the season;
1. London Welsh’s Half Back Combo
Welsh pulled off possible the coup of the season when they announced the signing of World Cup winning All Black Piri Weepu. Although he may not be the force he was a couple of years ago there’s no doubting that his experience will be absolutely integral to helping keep Welsh in away from the bottom of the table. Throw experienced fly half Olly Barkley into the mix and you have a potent half back combination who could be one to watch this season.
2. Gloucester’s Front Row
For much of last season the Gloucester pack was bullied up front which meant their exciting backline didn’t have the opportunity to fire. This season however the signings of Richard Hibbard and John Afoa represent an intent by the West Country side to strengthen their forward base. In these two experienced operators they now have the kind of pack that should be more than capable of competing with the very best in the league.
3. Danny Cipriani
A resurgent Danny Cipriani was the key catalyst behind Sale’s impressive sixth placed finish last season which guaranteed them a place at Europe’s top table this season. The talismanic fly-half will be keen to build on last seasons exploits in a bid to break into the England squad ahead of next years World Cup. Given Sale’s pack finally seem capable of getting on the front foot expect to see Cipriani at his mercurial best this year.
4. Sam Burgess
Burgess may not be due to arrive at Bath until the end of October, however that should be more than enough for the big man to make a huge impact on the Premiership. Have no doubt, Burgess is here to play his way into the England squad for the World Cup so expect some huge performances from him as he looks like a genuine contender for Stuart Lancaster’s midfield if he can adapt quickly.
5. Newcastle Falcons Second Row
The Falcons may not have had much to shout about during a tough season last year, but one of the few positives was new signing Dom Barrow who turned out to be a key man in their battle to stave off relegation. This season Dean Richards has signed Italy’s played of the Six Nations Josh Furno to further bolster his sides engine room. Whilst we may see one of the pair in the number six shirt at times make no mistake, they will be a force to be reckoned with.
6. Freddie Burns
Burns has a torrid time last season at Gloucester as his form took a dramatic dip after it was announced he was considering a move to Leicester. After announcing a move to the Tigers at the end of the season he starred for England during their tour of New Zealand proving that this season was merely a blip rather than a complete loss of form. Behind a dominant Leicester pack this season Burns could be the man to restore them to the head of the table as he stakes his claim for a place in England’s World Cup squad.
7. Marland Yarde
Possible one of the most exciting signings of the season, Marland Yarde’s move across London to join Harlequins could prove an absolute masterstroke. The powerful winger looks an ideal fit for Quins and will benefit from playing alongside experienced operators such as Nick Evans and Ugo Monye. If he can remain fit there’s no doubting he will be a key player for both club and country over the next 14 months.
8. The Wolf Pack
A fantastic season for Saracens last time around ended in heartbreak during an 8 day period that saw them lose out in both the Premiership and Heineken Cup finals. This season the Saracens wolf pack will be looking to bounce back as they renew their assault on both competitions, boosted by the signings of Argentine Juan Figallo and Scotland lock Jim Hamilton. If the likes of Jacques Burger and Billy Vunipola can remain fit there’s no doubting they will be there or thereabouts again this season.
9. The Wasps Back Three
Last season ended in disappointment for Wasps after a number of injuries halted their progress throughout the season. This time around if Christian Wade and Tom Varndell can remain fit in addition to the signing of Rob Miller and Alapeti Leiua inside them the Wasps flyers could do some serious damage. Expect big things as Wasps will be looking to build on last seasons seventh placed finish.
10. A Resurgent Chiefs Side
Despite many pundits tipping them for a crack at the top 4, the Chiefs slipped off as the season progressed which saw them slip down the table ending the season in disappointing fashion. Don’t expect a repeat this time around as Rob Baxter and his Exeter side will be chomping at the bit to once again reign supreme with their free-flowing style of rugby that has proved so effective since their return to the Premiership.
11. Northampton Saints
Last season saw Saints making a number of high profile acquisitions in a bid to challenge for major honours. The gamble paid off as the new signings helped guide the Saints to the Premiership and Amlin Cup titles. This season there have been no big name signings, however a more settled Northampton side will be hoping to retain their Premiership crown so expect them to start strongly as there won’t be a bedding in period for new signings.
12. The London Irish Pack
The last few seasons haven’t been too much fun for Irish fans as they have watched their side battling relegation in successive seasons. New investors in the club could be about to change that however as Irish have made a number of signings in a bid to climb the Premiership table this time around. Whilst there may not be too many big name signings, a number of proven Premiership players could be enough to transform a pack that has failed to live up to its predecessors.
What are you most looking forward to seeing during the 2014/15 Aviva Premiership?